Japan 2015: Preparation

Visiting Japan is my greatest (and most feasible) dream. I’ve been always told that I need a lot of money to go there because everything is expense most especially the airfare and you need to have a high amount of ‘show money’ for the visa. I was actually told that I needed to prepare Php300k for the show money and was given a safe estimate of Php100k for an all-in 7 days trip to Japan! Given that I am just a starting employee, fulfilling my dream to go to Japan seemed to be far-fetched.

HOWEVER… the odds suddenly became all in my favor and will you believe, I managed to spend only a little above Php40k all-in on my 7D6N Japan trip! In this series of blog posts, I will tell you about my Japan experience and how I managed to spend that little for a country that is notorious for having everything expensive.

Let’s start with my preparation in the Philippines!

Step 1. Airfare

You might be surprised why this is my #1 step in preparing for my Japan trip but I would not be going on this trip  if I wasn’t able to stumble upon this ridiculous airfare discount— Cebu Pacific’s Piso Fare! For my non-Filipino friends, piso fare means that the base fare for the selected flights of Cebu Pacific will only cost Php1 (piso) which is like, USD0.023! They usually release on days with something to celebrate (i.e. holiday season, national holidays and heck, even Pacquiao’s win) so I suggest you do this:

Cebu Pac and other budget airlines in the Philippines like AirAsia usually release their promo fares at midnight, but it depends as I got to know about the promo fare that I availed while derping on Facebook at around 7 in the morning.  (Cebu Pac didn’t pay me for this or anything, I am just a satisfied customer 🙂 )

Overall, my roundtrip airfare for MNL-NRT-MNL with 15kg baggage allowance on both trips was Php6574 (USD149)! Generally, this is already such a big bargain but I think you can now go lower than this because they have removed the fuel surcharge after the long weeks of low fuel costs earlier this year. They released a Piso Fare without a fuel surcharge in January I think.

It was my first time with Cebu Pac and I was prepared with my contingency plans if ever my flight got cancelled or delayed. We departed not exactly as scheduled but we arrived a little earlier! If you are skeptical, check the flight history of 5J5054 here.

Take note that what I did was a gamble, because I do not hold a visa yet and this ticket is basically, non-refundable and non-transferable. Even name change is not allowed. I do not recommend flying on a budget airline during peak seasons, I haven’t experienced it but have seen that it is such a pain in the ass.

Expense 1: Airfare- Php6574

Step 2: Japan Visa

You might have heard that Japan has relaxed its visa requirements for Filipino citizens and DAMN RIGHT they really did! Know that you don’t have to go to the Japanese embassy to apply for a visa and instead have it processed by an accredited agency. Some agencies claim that they process Japan visa whereas they will just have the actual accredited agency process it and that means extra cost for the client, so make sure you check out the list here. After submitting my requirements (your agency should inform you about this, it is also free to inquire), I received a result in just 2 working days!

Now hey Faye, how did you do it? First of all, embassies in general do not disclose the reason of rejection/ acceptance so I really don’t know. But from what I have observed from those I know that have and have not been granted a visa, the common denominator is their previous travel. For instance, I have a friend whose show money is only Php20k, but was given a visa. However, she has once traveled in another country.  For my case, I provided the ff to support my visa application:

  • Employment certificate (My employment at a Japanese company might help, who knows? Also, I don’t have an ITR yet so I had to create a letter of explanation and this certificate showing my hiring date.)
  • Bank certificate for a savings account
  • Ticket (to show them that hey, I’m going back and this is my gamble soplsgrantmeavisahuhu)
  • Passport (I have traveled abroad before, in case my theory is correct lol)
  • Daily itinerary (it was just simple, not a detailed one)

The Japanese Embassy doesn’t charge you for a tourist visa, but the agency does.

Expense #2: Visa processing fee- Php1200

Step 3: Japan Rail Pass

Overall, my plan is to visit everything I can. I will be traveling from east to west and will be using a shinkansen on a daily basis, so I availed of the Japan Rail Pass. This pass can be bought at accredited agencies as well and is valid only on Japan Rail trains, which is like, the major rail company in Japan. I bought the 7-day ordinary pass which costs JPY 29110 or Php 11,080 at that time. You may know more about this pass here. (Note: This is the official website of the Japan Rail Pass. Other sites are just made by agencies or travel sites.) After my trip, I computed my expenses without a Japan Rail Pass and it summed up to JPY38,450! I saved JPY9340 (Php3525.85) and a lot of priceless time with this pass. You just have to show this pass to a manned gate, no need to worry about understanding how a ticket machine works, where to go and how much to pay based on the rail map. (Seriously, having to buy the ticket every now and then is such a bother! It is a pain to miss your trains and having to re-search your route again on your NAVI app.)

Know that there are region-specific pass that are cheaper and more economical if you don’t plan to travel long distances in Japan. The Japan Rail Pass website also provides info about those.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Japan Rail Pass can only be bought outside of Japan, so buy it beforehand!

Expense #3: Japan Rail Pass- Php11,080

Step 4: Accommodation

Next to transportation (airfare, trains and buses), I think this one is something a traveler will spend a lot of money on. The key to saving money here is simple: DON’T BE PICKY! I was lucky to get a host family in Japan where I stayed for 4 nights so I had 2 nights that I have to find somewhere else to stay. For my 2 nights, I searched for hostels and guest houses to stay in. Hostelworld really helps and three Google keywords– “backpackers guesthouse *insert name of location here*”.  You can also check out AirBNB for good deals. Hostel/ Guesthouse might sound sketchy for some people, but what I have experienced were very clean guesthouses with superb service!

In Takayama, I stayed at J-Hoppers Takayama and availed of the Shirakawa-go tour. Their JPY500 Shirakawa-go tour discount made me instantly book with them. It is also near Sanmachi (my 2nd reason of going to Takayama, the 1st one being the snow experience) and other tourist spots. I spent JPY2500 (Php943.75) + $2 Hostelworld fee (say, Php90) at J-Hoppers Takayama on a 6-bed girls dormitory.

In Kyoto, I stayed at Khaosan Kyoto Theater, which is just newly built so everything is still shiny (in a way lol). I spent JPY2300 (Php868.25) on Khaosan for a 14-bed mixed dorm.

Both guest houses have free wifi, PC and kitchen facilities (free coffee and tea). For a fee, you can also use the laundry machines. The staff members are very friendly and fluent in English too.

Other than these paid options, you can also check out Couchsurfing.org. But this is all at your own risk. Read the reviews about the person very well! I was supposed to Couchsurf in Kyoto (he has good reviews so I am confident) but he suddenly had to work overseas during my stay :(. I also asked to Couchsurf with a verified member in Shizuoka with HUNDREDS of VERY positive reviews but he was traveling during my stay too. 🙁

Expense 4: Accommodation- Php 1902 for 2 nights

Step 5: Pocket WiFi

My game plan on surviving a solo tourism trip to a country that I have never been to? HAVING INTERNET ACCESS ALL THE TIME! Yes, there are a lot of free WiFi spots in Japan now (check out this link, it’s very useful) but it is better safe than lost.

So I took a lot of time canvassing for this very important stuff and I found the best deal at $45 (Php1,986.75 that time) for 7 days with Japan Experience however, now, they are at $50 for 5 days or $57 for 7 days. :/ My next recommendation would be PuruPuru, which is at JPY6588 (around Php2486) for 7days.

The pocket WiFi that I got was under au, a telecom company in Japan. The package comes with a charger and in my experience the battery can last for two full days. I think it goes into energy saving mode when not in use, that’s why sometimes my phone cannot detect it.

If you’re curious how fast it can go, this is how fast it was while I was traveling from Nagoya to Takayama (it’s in the middle of the mountains!)

And this is how fast it was while I was traveling from Atami to Nagoya:

For comparison, this is already considered fast in the Philippines:

I had very long train rides and I don’t have a book with me to save weight and space, so having this high speed Internet connection didn’t make me bored while on those trips. Also, I relied A LOT on NAVI and other apps because Japan’s train network (especially Tokyo, oh good lord, the Tokyo subway) could get very confusing.

Expense 5: Pocket wifi- Php1986.75

Step 6: Cash

It is very important to prepare cash during your stay in Japan because a lot of stores don’t accept cards. In my case, it was pretty hard to buy Yen in my city so I had to go to Sanry’s Exchange in Glorietta 4 to buy Yen. You know Sanry’s offers good rates because people (including foreigners) line up to them! I exchanged JPY85,000 and for me, it was surprisingly more than enough. I exchanged most of my remaining yen (especially my coins) to my host family and I still had money to be exchanged when I returned to the Philippines. It covered my food, subway fare, souvenirs, grocery, and even the things my friends asked me to buy.

Expense 6: Cash- Php 32087.50 (JPY85000)

So, I prepared a total of Php54,829.80 for this trip. Take note that I returned home with around Php10k left. For comparison, the 2015 11″ Macbook Air is Php55k at Kimstore. A shiny new gadget to flaunt to your friends or an exciting experience that will be in your memory forever? Choose wisely! :p

Next post will be about my Japan trip!